Why are Americans so enraptured by conspiracy theories?

Conspiracy theories are dangerous not simply because people believe them. Nor are all conspiracy theories equal. People who believe the Apollo moon landing was faked are not a societal concern. It’s when those false claims power troubling behaviors that we worry.

Unlike moon landing conspiracies, election denial forms the justification for overturning legitimate free elections. It can turn a representative democracy into a fascist regime. That was the goal of the J6 insurrection, all powered by a conspiracy theory.

The American public is now learning about “replacement theory,” which is the idea that migrants and nonwhite people are systematically replacing white people. According to a recent Yahoo News/You Gov poll, about 60 percent of Trump voters believe this theory.

We don’t have to think that hard to imagine the consequences of accepting this false statement as a true statement. It will lead to xenophobia and mistreatment of migrants, especially nonwhite ones.

Let’s not forget about QAnon, a conspiracy theory that ran a close second to election denial since 2020. QAnoners believe, among other things, that an evil cult has taken over the world. They mistrust governments, institutions and elites. They are more likely to believe information not coming from people associated with those entities.

It’s still true that QAnon believers are primarily white (around 60 percent of total QAnon believers), and the largest share is Republican (about 43 percent). But there is more diversity here than I realized.

Similarly, we would expect less-educated Americans to be high conspiratorial thinkers, the logic being these folks have less information literacy or have had less exposure to established facts.

Indeed, 66 percent of “high conspiratorial thinkers” are did not go to college. But that leaves 34 percent of the same who did go to college.

To say we’re a nation of conspiratorial thinkers is no overstatement.